Bracing for change, Washington Wizards head into a summer of uncertainty

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 16, 2010

The regular season is complete, which is about all that is settled for the Washington Wizards as they enter an offseason filled with uncertainty. The probable sale of the franchise from the Pollin family to Ted Leonsis remains unfinished after months of negotiations, the team has 11 free agents and the Wizards' hope rests in some lottery luck, lots of available salary cap space and a star player who has missed most of the past three seasons and is currently residing in a halfway house.

As players trickled out of the locker room following a 98-97 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, some carried duffel bags, jerseys and large photographs. Many walked through those doors for the final time. And those who will -- or hope to -- return to Washington also carried expectations that next season has to be better.

"You can't really get too much worse," Al Thornton said. "We've been at a low throughout this whole season."

Thornton is among five players who are under contract next season, along with Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche, Nick Young and JaVale McGee. Quinton Ross isn't expected to decline a player option worth $1.1 million to become a free agent, which would bring the total to six players.

The 16 nameplates in the locker room Wednesday will soon be different, with the Wizards set to welcome three of the top 35 picks in the NBA draft.

The team will decline the $11.8 million option on Josh Howard's contract, making him a free agent this summer. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament four games after arriving in a trade with Dallas and will need six months to recover from surgery.

Howard plans to work with the Wizards' training staff throughout the offseason and hopes to return. "I go into this summer knowing that I'm going to find a job. I'm not looking to break the bank anymore. . . . I know it's more about winning. I had the opportunity to make it to [an NBA] Final, but I know how it is to want to get back. Coming back here, hopefully, if I do, it'll get me back to that point."

Howard, a former all-star, said Arenas contacted him before his knee surgery last month, which "was a big plus for me, for him to reach out to me like that."

He added that the Wizards would benefit if those two teamed up. "I would expect big things," Howard said. "Especially the things that he's been through, I know he's ready to play, anxious to play. Things that I have been through and I've been able to get over, I just want to play. You get two guys out there along with other guys that are professionals and know the game, the sky is the limit."

Although he has rated this season as the most difficult of his 10-year career, Mike Miller said he favors coming back to Washington, since the team used the fifth overall pick as part of a package to acquire him last summer.

"I have some loyalties to the Wizards," Miller said. "They traded for me and Randy Foye, gave up a high draft pick and that's not easy to do, especially in this day and age when teams are going young. You understand what they did for us, so my loyalties are here for sure, but after that, we'll have to see what comes to the plate."

Shaun Livingston blossomed in his two-month stint with the Wizards, proving he could be a reliable contributor after missing most of the past three seasons recovering from a horrific knee injury. Livingston has been reluctant to make a commitment to the Wizards, even after Coach Flip Saunders created a two-guard offense with visions of him sharing a back court with Arenas.

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